What is a glioma?

A glioma is a type of brain tumour that starts in the brain (primary brain tumour). More than half of all primary brain tumours are gliomas.

These tumours develop from the supporting cells (glial cells) in the brain or spinal cord. Different types of glioma are named after the types of glial cell.

Booklets and resources


Astrocytoma is the most common type of glioma. It develops from a star-shaped glial cell called an astrocyte. Astrocytomas can be grade 1 to 4. Different grades of astrocytoma have different names.

  • Grade 1 tumours are called pilocytic astrocytoma
  • Grade 2 tumours are called low-grade diffuse astrocytoma
  • Grade 3 tumours are called anaplastic astrocytoma
  • Grade 4 tumours are called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM)


Oligodendroglioma develops from a type of glial cell called an oligodendrocyte. These cells make up the fatty covering of nerve cells. There are two main grades of these tumours – grade 2 and grade 3.


Ependymoma develops from a type of glial cell called an ependymal cell. These cells line the fluid-filled spaces in the brain (ventricles) and the centre of the spinal cord. Ependymomas can be grade 1 to 3.

Getting support

You may get anxious between appointments. This is natural. It may help to get support from family, friends or a support organisation. Macmillan is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 October 2019
Next review: 01 April 2022

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.